We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. - from The Declaration of Independence
Two hundred and thirty-five years ago today the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, originally written by Thomas Jefferson and then modified by the assembled Congress into the form which was actually signed. It was the carefully-considered reaction to a long series of grievances which had been building for thirteen years, most prominently a dramatic increase in taxation and increasingly-harsh suppression of the civil rights of the American colonists. For almost a century (since the Glorious Revolution of 1688) the accepted view in England was that Parliament was supreme throughout the Empire; in other words, that anything Parliament did was ipso facto constitutional because there was no higher authority. But the American revolutionaries, inspired by the philosophy of John Locke, held that government is a social contract between the governor (king, parliament or whatever) and the governed, which granted the right of rule as long as the government upheld its end of the contract. And though the government has the right to establish laws and make other decisions as it sees fit, some rights are unalienable, that is they are inherent in all humans from Nature or God, and no government has the right to unduly restrict or abrogate those rights without just cause. Parliament was therefore not supreme but limited by its unwritten social contract with the people; the Declaration pronounced that Parliament and the King had violated that contract and enumerated the ways in which they had done so.
The words of the Declaration’s second paragraph (quoted above) set forth this philosophy with admirable clarity, and what reasonable and moral person could disagree? The rights of every person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are, as the Declaration avers, self-evident, as is the right of a group of people to choose the government which works for them. This paragraph is followed by a long section describing the ways in which the Congressional representatives held that King George III had broken the social contract and thereby made the colonists’ rebellion not merely a right but a duty; here are a few important examples from this section:
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance…
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power…
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States…
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury…
In colonial times, laws were upheld by elected officials (sheriffs, constables and the like) employing deputies or the local militia when necessary; citizens largely protected themselves, and the only American city with a standing police force was Philadelphia (and it was quite small). By the time of the War Between the States only a handful of large cities had such forces, and like sheriff’s deputies they dressed in plain clothes and had no formal ranks. But in the latter half of the 19th century police forces grew far more numerous and assumed a paramilitary character, with uniforms and ranks but lacking the regimentation and strict discipline of a true military organization. The Social Purity movement spawned a vast proliferation of laws, and by the beginning of the 20th century police were routinely dispatched against citizens who only a few years before would have been considered completely law-abiding. Both the powers given police and the gap between them and other citizens continued to expand as the century wore on and the number and intrusiveness of laws proliferated, and at some point police began to routinely refer to non-cops as “civilians”…ignoring the fact that they, too, are civilians, as they answer to the civil authority. The last shift came with the inflation of the “War On Drugs” in the 1980s, and federal grants now allow police departments across the country to purchase automatic weapons, armored vehicles, grenades and other military hardware, which they then use against American citizens who have harmed no one. Police departments have become increasingly militarized, and have been granted unprecedented powers to invade homes, brutalize and murder citizens, steal their property and abrogate their rights in violation of the Constitution and every law of common sense and decency. The police have become, in short, a vast, decentralized, undisciplined army which is not subject to any law, nor are individual cops held responsible for any crimes they commit.
The federal government has in recent decades erected a multitude of new offices, and sent out swarms of officers to harass the people and eat out ever-increasing portions of the GDP.
The police army has been rendered independent of and superior to local, state and federal laws.
They are heavily armed and quartered among us in every neighborhood.
They are protected by mock trial from punishment for any murders or other crimes which they should commit on the inhabitants of the states.
Every year, new taxes, fees and unfunded mandates are imposed on us without our consent.
Many federal offenses are tried before a judge rather than a jury, or else juries are hand-picked and then kept ignorant of salient facts of the cases; or citizens are falsely accused of such heinous crimes, with such disproportionate penalties and necessitating such outrageously expensive defenses, that those accused of them simply plead guilty in return for a lesser sentence. Also, property stolen by the state under ever-expanding “asset forfeiture” laws is not returned even if its rightful owner is never charged with a crime. Each of these procedures essentially deprives its victim of the benefit of trial by jury.
Jefferson’s words are clear, and just as self-evident as they were in 1776: “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”